Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing

A List Apart is pleased to present the introduction of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing (New Riders Press, first edition, March 10, 2006). —Ed.

Article Continues Below


Everyware is an attempt to describe the form computing will take in the next few years. Specifically, it’s about a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear. It’s about the enormous consequences this disappearance has for the kinds of tasks computers are applied to, for the way we use them, and for what we understand them to be.

Although aspects of this vision have been called a variety of names—ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, physical computing, tangible media, and so on—I think of each as a facet of one coherent paradigm of interaction that I call everyware.

In everyware, all the information we now look to our phones or Web browsers to provide becomes accessible from just about anywhere, at any time, and is delivered in a manner appropriate to our location and context.

In everyware, the garment, the room and the street become sites of processing and mediation. Household objects from shower stalls to coffee pots are reimagined as places where facts about the world can be gathered, considered, and acted upon. And all the familiar rituals of daily life, things as fundamental as the way we wake up in the morning, get to work, or shop for our groceries, are remade as an intricate dance of information about ourselves, the state of the external world, and the options available to us at any given moment.

In all of these scenarios, there are powerful informatics underlying the apparent simplicity of the experience, but they never breach the surface of awareness: things Just Work. Rather than being filtered through the clumsy arcana of applications and files and sites, interactions with everyware feel natural, spontaneous, human. Ordinary people finally get to benefit from the full power of information technology, without having to absorb the esoteric bodies of knowledge on which it depends. And the sensation of use—even while managing an unceasing and torrential flow of data—is one of calm, of relaxed mastery.

This, anyway, is the promise.


The appeal of all this is easy to understand. Who wouldn’t desire a technology that promised to smooth the edges of modern life, subtly intervening on our behalf to guide us when we’re lost, and remind us of the things we’ve forgotten? Who could object to one that dispensed with the clutter of computers and other digital devices we live with, even while doing all the things they do better?

The vision is, without doubt, a lovely one: deeply humane, even compassionate. But getting from here to there may prove unexpectedly difficult. Everyday life, after all, is something that we already understand and already manage to muddle through, however gracelessly or inelegantly. We will have to balance whatever improvement we hope to achieve by overlaying our lives with digital mediation against the risk of unduly complicating that which is presently straightforward, breaking that which now works, and introducing new levels of frustration and inconvenience into all the most basic operations of our lives.

We will have to account for what happens when such mediation breaks down—as it surely will from time to time, given its origins in the same institutions, and the same development methodologies, that brought us unreliable mobile phone connections, mandatory annual operating system upgrades, and the Blue Screen of Death.

We will have to accept that privacy as we have heretofore understood it may be a thing of the past: that people will be presented with a bargain where access to the most intimate details of their lives is traded away in return for increased convenience, and that many will accept.

And we will have to reckon with the emergent aspects of our encounter with everyware, with all the ways in which its impact turns out to be something unforeseeably more than the sum of its parts.

What we can already see is this: everyware will surface and make explicit facts about our world that perhaps we would be happier ignoring. In countless ways, it will disturb unwritten agreements about workspace and homespace, the presentation of self and the right to privacy. It contains an inherent, unsettling potential for panoptical surveillance, regulation and “rationalization.” Its presence in our lives will transfigure our notions of space and time, self and other, citizen and society in ways that we haven’t begun to contemplate.

We’re just not very good at doing “smart,” and yet it would seem that in everyware we’re proposing to remake the very relations that define our lives, remodeling them on a technical paradigm nobody seems to be particularly satisfied with. A close reading of the existing literature on ubiquitous and pervasive systems is all that is necessary to feel the dissonance, trip over the odd dislocations that crop up whenever we follow old maps into a new territory. We become acutely aware of our need for a more sensitive description of the terrain.


We will surely need one, at any rate, if we are to make sense of the wave of change even now bearing down on us. And we will feel this need in short order, because whether we’re ready for it or not, everyware is coming.

It is coming because there are too many too powerful institutions vested in its coming, knowing what enormous market possibilities are implied by the conquest of the everyday. It is coming because it is an irresistable, “technically sweet” challenge, for designers no less than engineers. It is coming because something like it effectively became inevitable, the moment each of the tools, products and services we’re interested in started communicating in ones and zeroes.

It is coming—and as yet, the people who will be most affected by it, the overwhelming majority of whom are nontechnical, nonspecialist, ordinary citizens of the developed world, barely know it even exists.

This is not due to any inherent obscurity or lack of interest in the broader field; to date, there have been some seven annual Ubicomp conferences, three Pervasives, and a wide scatter of smaller but otherwise similar colloquia. These are established events, in academic terms: well-attended, underwritten by companies such as Intel, Sony, Nokia and Samsung. There are at least three peer-reviewed professional journals exclusively dedicated to ubiquitous or pervasive computing. There has been no dearth of discussion of everyware…but little of this discussion, and virtually none that might offer enough information on which to build meaningful choices, has reached the mainstream.

There is a window of time before the issues we’ve touched upon become urgent daily realities for most of us, but it is quite literally narrowing by the day. As of this writing, “u-” for “ubiquitous” has already joined “e-” and “i-” in the parade of content-free buzz-prefixes used by the marketers of technology to connote trendiness; literally not a day goes by without the appearance of some relevant news item.

We hear about RFID tags being integrated into employee ID cards, a new modular sensor grid on the architectural market, a networking scheme proposing to use the body’s own electrical field to carry information—and this in the general press, not the specialist journals. There’s already a steady stream of prototype everyware emerging from the research labs and the more advanced corporate design studios, no matter if they’re answers to questions nobody’s much asked.

With actual, consumer-facing applications (and implications) starting to appear, it’s time for discussions about its potential for risk and reward to leave the tight orbit of academic journals and conferences behind. If everyware hasn’t yet reached its Betamax vs. VHS stage—that stage in the adoption of any new technology where the standards that will determine the particulars of its eventual shape are ironed out—we can see that it’s not so terribly far off. It’s time for the people who have the most at stake in the emergence of this technology to be invited to the table. The challenge before us now is to begin thinking about just how we can mold that emergence to suit our older prerogatives of personal agency, civil liberty and simple sanity.


I’m afraid that readers looking for a technical explanation of RFID tag readers, gestural interfaces, or operating systems capable of juggling the multiple, distributed events of ubiquitous environments, will be sorely disappointed. My intention in Everyware is simply to describe what ubiquitous computing is; establish that it is a very real concern for all of us, and in the relatively near term; explore some of the less-obvious implications of its spread as a paradigm; and finally develop some ideas about how we might improve it.

How can we deliver the promise of everyware—the part about calm and relaxed mastery, the part that proposes to replace our balky computers with the effortless simplicity of the everyday—while forestalling some of the pitfalls that are already apparent? How can we, as users and consumers, hope to influence something that is already in the process of unfolding?

The pages to come will frame an answer to these questions. In the balance of this book, we’ll explore what the emergence of robust, real-world everyware will mean, in terms useful to the designers and developers of such systems, to the marketers tasked with selling them, and to the policymakers charged with bringing them into conformance with our other agreements about the world. We’ll consider some of the deeper context in which notions of everyware arise, in the hope that if we stand back far enough we can see how all its pieces fit together, and what is implied in their joining. And we’ll do this without ever losing sight of the individual human being encountering everyware, in the hope that what we choose to build together will prove to be useful and valuable to that person, and supportive of the best that is in us.

If we make wise choices about the terms on which we accept it, we can extend the utility and convenience of ubiquitous computing to billions of lives. We stand a real chance of improving the experience of the everyday, addressing dissatisfactions as old as human history. Alternately, we can watch passively as the world fills up with ubiquitous systems not designed with our interests at heart – at best presenting us with moments of hassle, disruption and frustration beyond number, and at worst laying the groundwork for the kind of repression the despots of the twentieth century could only dream about.

The stakes, this time, are unusually high. A mobile phone is something that can be switched off, or left at home. A computer is something that can be shut down, unplugged, walked away from. But the technology we’re discussing here—ambient, ubiquitous, insinuative into all the apertures everyday life affords it—will be environment-forming in a way neither of those are. There should be little doubt that its advent will profoundly shape both the world and our experience of it in the years ahead.

As to whether we come to regard that advent as boon, burden or blunder, that is very much up to us, and the decisions we make now.

Want to read more?#section6

Free sample sections are available at the Everyware mini site, and the book is on the shelves now.

40 Reader Comments

  1. Such technology offers great oppertunity for altruistic endeavors. But such technologies don’t come cheap. And I for one have a hard time imagining any entity, individual or corporate, who would be willing to foot such a bill *and* accepting a high ideal such as “the betterment of society and human life” as a reasonable return on investment. Not without a major cultural shift, at least. Emerging technologies could very well lead to such a shift, but now we’re putting the cart before the horse because we still need the initial funders to get the ball rolling on these technologies so that a cultural shift has a snowball’s chance.

    I’m definately interested in reading more. Some of the subtle language choices lead me to believe Mr. Greenfield and I share a certain set of common interests (mediation, panoptical, “rationalization” which I assume gets the quotes because it is used in the context of Max Weber). So my to-read list gets yet another entry added to it.

  2. “we’re putting the cart before the horse because we still need the initial funders to get the ball rolling…”

    Adam makes the case pretty persuasively elsewhere in the book that the initial funders have been investing in ubiquitous tech for quite some time, and that many real-world examples of it are already in use. Many of these are not–yet–pitched at consumers directly (those that are aren’t in generally in the US yet at least). Instead, there are millitary applications, government projects, and so on.

    Very few people would have thought to tackle the ethical and social implications of large-scale use of the Arpanet in the mid-1960’s, or mobile phone technology in the 1970’s. Those technologies also had deep funding and long-term strategies for applications. Adam’s convinced me that we’re already past that point with everyware; there’s no better time than now to consider cultural shifts.

  3. I can inherently understand that every person has a different conceptualization of the world and of the future — so when I press submit and post my tripe, I hope it won’t be offensive to the author. Mr. Greenspan, I do have nothing but respect for you… moreso because I don’t even know you.

    However, I think I’ve heard enough of the elitist visions of the future. “Ubiquitous computing” wether even possible or not, could be a long way off. And if it were possible, happening even now, would it be a good idea? Would it be accepted?

    The numbers speak for themselves at any rate. Broadband adoption is slowing in North America and is only dense in large urban centers. The sale of smart-phones, PDA devices, and other high-tech devices is dwindling all but amongst the elite.

    I think the evidence is there to support my argument that we will not see this idea of everyware. While technology is immensely useful for many things, it is not intuitive enough to replace systems that have already reached their pinnicle. Sure there is always a better way to do something, but is it always better to introduce another layer to our interface with reality?

    There will be blips and bleeps and glimpses of this everyware all around us, but I don’t believe it will be all-encompassing. It will find its place where it is useful as all things tend to do.

    What does scare me about “everyware,” is the idea of exchange of privacy for convenience… not only does it increase the convenience for the individual, but it also increases the convenience of malcontents to use such open-ness against individuals and society.

    The more we allow ourselves to be tracked, the more data there is to steal. We should seek to return to anonymous systems if we value not only our privacy, but our safety as well.

  4. I think it’s not the love of money the root of all evil, but the lack of it.

    The article is written perfectly, in my opinion, although I think the things it states will only become available years from now

  5. Everyware is already creeping into our lives. Consider RFID tags and a well-known computer vendor’s recent commercial. The truck drivers are hopelessly lost, yet a very helpful woman sitting in the middle of the road seems to have all the answers. When asked how she knew they were lost, she simply replies: “The boxes told me.”

    RFID is just the tip of the iceberg. These technologies hold great deal of promise in making our lives easier, but they also hold a great potential for abuse – perhaps as great as the death of civil liberty (and privacy) as we know it. Even while living an ethical and transparent life, there are things we simply do not wish to share with the rest of the world. Without proper restraint by developers and consumers alike, such a scenario is not a great stretch of the imagination.

  6. Us web developers will sure be held responsible for the effects of everyware to a certain degree, won’t we?

  7. Am I the only person who feels this is just an advert for the author’s book? The article doesn’t work as an introduction to what ubiquitous computing is nor to what it could achieve; it’s simply an introduction to a book. And what use is that to us?

    I am very skeptical of any technology ever being mature and standardised enough to ‘just work’. I believe there will always be incompatibilities brought on by the mismatched speeds at which new functionailty is implemented and the creation of standards defining that functionality. It’s human nature to always push the boundaries _just_ beyond breaking point.

  8. I planned on making a big fuss about over-terminologization and the evils of our modernized lives, but I began to lose focus of my core idea: we should all be taught to relate to the world sans technology before are “everywared” out of real existence. And I don’t mean use a television remote that doesn’t also talk to your fridge to find out if you’re low on turnip greens. I’m talking about going outside to lay in the grass. Stare at some clouds. Make fresh cheese from a local farmer’s milk. Go nuts – talk to someone face-to-face.
    We’re in such a rush, and “everyware” will make that rush seem so relaxed we may forget what it is like to really relax.
    Pull the plug on technology in your house. You may be fine, but I bet your kids won’t know what to do.


    By the way, remember the commercial for the toddler-targeted “learning laptop?” The voice over states something like, “for my toddlers busy schedule…” When I was toddler, and we’re talking 1970’s – not that long ago – toddlers didn’t have a busy schedule. And we played with blocks, not laptops. What social changes will result from this trend? Are we preparing the youth for mid-20s coronaries or psychological meltdowns? Perhaps “everyware” is all that stands between them and a very short life span? Just a thought…

  9. Am I the only one who got chills down their spine? I couldn’t help but remember 1984 as I read this article. In a world where technology becomes so commonplace as to be unnoticeable, such a reality inevitably becomes more feasible.

    All I have to say is that technology has tremendous potential. Weather it’s used correctly is another matter.

  10. Always great to read what someone thinks the future has to hold but I think that there are alot of things missing from his speech for instance the use of nano tech

  11. Britney and Bruno V, it’s important to note that _Everyware_ is not a piece of speculation. It’s primarily about the near term: about things that either exist right now, or will in the next eighteen months at the very outside. These are products, services and systems like Hong Kong’s Octopus card, South Korea’s entire _city_ of New Songdo, or PayPass here in North America. Indeed, as Andrew implies, I spend quite a good part of the book making the argument that everyware is something whose implications we need to be attending to yesterday.

    Derek and Matt, I think you’ll be especially pleased by the book – either because you’ve correctly sussed out my influences, or because you’ll approve of the stance I wind up taking with regard to ubiquitous informatics.

    James and Tamlyn, I’m sorry, but you appear to have missed my point. Perhaps I didn’t express it strongly enough: I’m probably more skeptical than most that ubiquitous systems will “Just Work” without a thoroughly unlikely degree of effort and investment. Nor do I believe that everyware necessarily should be deployed in any given context at all, or that it will represent an improvement where it is deployed. It’s to counter such assumptions – perhaps unsurprisingly, widespread and relatively unexamined among technologists and technophiles – that I wrote _Everyware_ in the first place.

    In any event, thanks to all of you for your comments. It’s a scary and exciting time, and I’m terribly happy to be able to contribute to this crucial conversation.

  12. Things will never simply “just work”, that’s an unrealistic Utopian ideal which is inherently flawed. It’s like saying “I don’t make mistakes!” but of course you’ve already made the first mistake.

    I see three stumbling blocks to any system. The first being ‘the human’ that creates the system, ‘the human’ that implements the system and ‘the human’ that uses the system.

    As a web developer I’ve come to the understanding, the opposite is true “nothing just works”. You always need to ‘want’, to want to make it work.

  13. This is a pretty lofty manifesto from someone who’s own website doesn’t even “just work”. He have links to validators (neither HTML or CSS validate as linked), and his own contact form redirects to a 404 page.

    It’s just sad really.

  14. Nick, your comment is both factually incorrect and saddening.

    Firstly, my site validates on both counts. But even if it didn’t, I fail to see how that would render my point equally invalid, in any way.

    Do you only listen to the opinions of that vanishingly small percentage of the world’s population who have both the capacity and motivation to express themselves in valid XHTML with a proper DTD? Would you disregard the viewpoint of an ecologist, or a civil engineer, if their utterances failed validation?

    Please do try not to miss the forest for the trees – for the veins on the underside of a single leaf, actually. The kind of intolerant, narrowly reductive stance your comment epitomizes (to say nothing of its dismissive rudeness) will do us no good at all if we truly wish to build technology that serves ordinary people. And I do assume that is what we all want.

  15. bq. We will have to accept that privacy as we have heretofore understood it may be a thing of the past: that people will be presented with a bargain where access to the most intimate details of their lives is traded away in return for increased convenience, and that many will accept.

    People definately will (and do) sacrifice a lot more that their privace for their “increased convenience”. I find convenience along with security may be the main drives of our generation, but also core culprits for intellectual and creative sterility.

    Yes, google may increase our IQ by whathaveyou, but what happens to our inquisitional capabilities?

    If you ask a child a question and never wait for it to think for itself, but immediately feed him the correct answer, you effectively impair its creative abilities.

  16. I just read this article.
    Well written, but sadly devoid of anything actually interesting.

    Do we really need another buzz word for the web 60.0 bandwagon to jump on. No satisfied with Tag clouds, Podcasting, Blogging”¦the list goes on and on”¦we have to come up with one that now sums up that in the future, more devices will be connected to each other, and it has to be an extremely funny play on words (ahem) — EVERYWARE!

    I don’t see the point of this article on List Apart. I see the reason an article like this may exist — if someone had been commissioned to write it for a company that had a specific use for it, and as that, it would be a fine piece of work. However, do any of the users of this website (not magazine, sorry) have to be told that in the future, more devices will talk to each other?

    Do we need another buzz word?

    I tell you what, im going to go with Mr Greenfields principle as I guess I generally agree with it (as its just common sense) — but im going to call it – Conversaging!
    In “conversation”? we are all talking together, and everything is “converging”? in a number of “years”? (age) so “conversaging”? is the future. How clever I am.
    Its not as good as everyware, but im clearly not as witty.

    Oh well

  17. Adam,

    First of all, yes your page validates… now. At the time I posted my previous comment, you had an EM tag that was not closed, thus causing any markup after that point to be considered invalid. This markup error caused the CSS validator to skip validating the CSS all together. You obviously know this as the error has since been corrected. That was the main point behind my previous comment.

    To address your second concern about the message being more important than the method in which it’s delivered, I agree. You seem to have forgotten a rather important point though. On this website, with this audience, the method is every bit as important as the message. Someone preaching about technology to this community should understand that proper markup is important not only for all the commonly understood reasons, but to this community in particular it lends you one very important asset”¦credibility. Had this message been coming from “an ecologist, or a civil engineer”? then yes, I would be more tolerant of this kind of issue. Given the topic of your manifesto however”¦

    When ALA relaunched with this new design, there was an issue that was brought to ALA’s attention regarding validation of the new CSS. The issue turned out to be an issue with the validator, and not the CSS. ALA (Eric Meyer) even posted an article detailing what the problem was, and why it occurred. The point here is that you need to know your audience. Frequent readers of this website will be much less inclined to accept information (particularly on this topic) from a source that lacks this most basic credibility.

    bq. Please do try not to miss the forest for the trees — for the veins on the underside of a single leaf, actually. The kind of intolerant, narrowly reductive stance your comment epitomizes (to say nothing of its dismissive rudeness) will do us no good at all if we truly wish to build technology that serves ordinary people. And I do assume that is what we all want.

    I take particular issue with that statement. Your condescending tone aside; In order to realize your fantasy of “technology that serves ordinary people”? and technology that “just works”?, there must be a common, well-understood foundation on which that technology can grow. In the case of the web (or any technology that interchanges raw data) that foundation is valid markup.

    I also noticed that my concerns about your contact form have yet to be addressed. If indeed it is working properly (and you got the message I attempted to send yesterday before turning to the ALA forum), you really should consider some sort of confirmation page so that people using this form know that their information was actually received. I seriously doubt this is the case however as I get redirected to http://v-2.org/archive.php?found=false whenever I submit. That’s not so great for “serving ordinary people”?. Most would not be nearly as patient as I have been.

    Additionally, try clicking on your name (the link to your website) in any of your defensive follow-ups in this forum. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that http://http//www.v-2.org is not a valid URL. Mistyping (or not double checking) the URL for your own website doesn’t exactly instill a high level of confidence in your credibility as proponent of technology.

    I also agree with what many of my fellow readers have already said”¦.This article doesn’t belong on ALA.

  18. Nick, you lost the right to “take exception” to my tone – or anyone’s – the moment you commented the way you did. You may now wish that you had couched your original commentary in a more collegial tone, but unfortunately you did not. You were obnoxious, and you got all the response you deserved.

    As to whether this piece belongs on ALA, maybe you should take that up with the editors, as it was an invited submission.

    I’ll tell you this, though, and it’s a little sad: when I mentioned that this was going to appear here at a gathering of friends, they all without exception wrinkled their noses and asked why. They recommended against it, using language (and this is close to verbatim) like “why would you want your work to be pissed on by a bunch of teenage standards Nazis?”

    I felt then, and still feel, that that’s not a fair characterization of this site, or its audience. But I’ve gotta tell ya, you’re doing a pretty good job of proving my cynical friends right. I had hoped that, by having this appear here, the “people who make Web sites” who read ALA would consider the challenges (not to mention the professional opportunities) that await us in the post-PC milieu, and here we are having a conversation as to what happens when we click on my name.

    For the record, Nick, I didn’t enter the improperly-formatted URL that seems to so enrage you, as my membership in ALA was provided to me by the editors so I could respond to comments. I’m sure, if you mail them politely, they’ll correct it to remove the errant “http:”.

  19. The goal of my original post was to bring some (minor) issues with your website to light to both ALA readers and yourself. You apparently either can not take, or believe you are above this type of criticism, and resorted to a personal attack. My post did not attack you personally, or even take issue with your academic work

    bq. As to whether this piece belongs on ALA, maybe you should take that up with the editors, as it was an invited submission.

    I believe the repsonses here speak for themselves.

    bq. For the record, Nick, I didn’t enter the improperly-formatted URL […] I’m sure, if you mail them politely, they’ll correct it to remove the errant “http:”?.

    Fair enough.

    bq. Nick, you lost the right to “take exception”? to my tone — or anyone’s — the moment you commented the way you did. You may now wish that you had couched your original commentary in a more collegial tone, but unfortunately you did not. You were obnoxious, and you got all the response you deserved.

    I stand by my original post. I believe you may have mis-interpreted my tone. This is after all the website for “people who make websites”, and these types of things are constantly being brought up.

    I would have been more than happy to bring these issues to your attention in a less public forum. I did in fact attempt to contact you via the contact form on your site 3 separate times, and with 3 different browsers. Had you (or your developer) taken the time to test your form, I wouldn’t have had to mention it here.

    Should any of us “people who make websites” launch a form like this that doesn’t work properly (if at all), we would surely hear about it from both our clients and superiors. It’s also unlikely that we’d get a whole lot of sympathy from either. A person in your position of pseudo-authority really should be more careful. Please fix your contact form.

    Had you not issued your rebuttal in such a condescending tone, I would not have felt the need to defend my position.

    bq. I’ll tell you this, though, and it’s a little sad: when I mentioned that this was going to appear here at a gathering of friends, they all without exception wrinkled their noses and asked why. They recommended against it, using language (and this is close to verbatim) like “why would you want your work to be pissed on by a bunch of teenage standards Nazis?”?

    Name calling and mud-flinging. That kind of remark doesn’t belong here (even if it is a quote). Be careful Adam… your character is starting to show.

    I’ll say it again… Know your audience. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. In the scientific community, pieces such as yours are subject to relentless scrutiny. I see no reason your work should be an exception.

    bq. I had hoped that, by having this appear here, the “people who make Web sites”? who read ALA would consider the challenges (not to mention the professional opportunities) that await us in the post-PC milieu, and here we are having a conversation as to what happens when we click on my name.

    I believe most of us do. It’s our job.

    For the record, I could care less what happenes when I click your name.

  20. …on the merits of what I put out there for discussion. I welcome it, I look forward to it, I grow and learn from it.

    What you did was nothing of the sort. It was irrelevant nit-picking. The fact that you apparently tried to convey the nit to me privately before doing so here doesn’t excuse you from the obligation to do so with a modicum of consideration and politesse.

    I convey the sense and the wording of my friend’s commentary to let you know what behavior like yours looks like outside the echo chamber. I endorse neither the wording nor (as I indicate) the sentiment – but as someone who has in the past had to try and sell Web standards to resistant clients, I can tell you that “advocacy” like yours is directly counterproductive.

    If human beings acting in good faith are having a hard time ensuring that their sites comply with the standards at all times and under all circumstances, then maybe, just maybe, it’s something about the standards themselves that’s causing the trouble.

    But now we’ve strayed an awfully long way from what I’m here to talk about, and I’m afraid I’ve cooperated with you in pulling the discussion off-course. I’m sincerely sorry if you didn’t get anything out of the introduction, and given your evident antipathy I’m not going to insult you by suggesting that you’ll necessarily find anything in the other 260-odd pages of the book worthwhile, either. I will thank you for your concern that my site validate, and your dedication to the cause.

  21. having reading this incredible excerpt, my first thoughts are of trust. there is always somebody in charge and however we manage to pull off this technological wizardry, there will be people hacking, spamming and all the rest of it. who polices them? who polices the police? and who polices the police of the police… etc etc…

    secondly, how will we ensure there are enough chioces. people who don’t trust Microsoft passionately evangelise Linux. if, in a technology of the future, there comes to be a monopoly, would people have this freedom? would you be able to ‘downsize’ to freeware? or would it all be exclusively available on only one system?

    i am probably missing huge chunks of what this could be all about, but i am very interested to know more and am hottly awaiting my crisp freshly wrapped copy of the book.

  22. While I know that everyware is undoubtedly going to pervade (invade) most of civilized society sooner or later, I for one would rather live without any technology at all than with technology surrounding me at all times and steering my course of existence.

    I’m a currently freelance web developer by trade; I do this because I’m good at it, because I get paid well for it, and because I need to build up some finances. I don’t do it because I gain any enjoyment or satisfaction from doing so. In fact, I utterly detest the way that technology has become necessary rather than complimentary to human life.

    I intend to move far, far away from all technology-driven civilization and *actually live* a life which will satisfy me physically, philosophically and spiritually – far more than a lifetime of technological mollycoddling, as portrayed in this article, ever could!

  23. Tom Allen:
    While I don’t quite share your level of contempt for our ever-increasingly “technology-driven civilization,” I do see the problem with becoming enveloped by the technology to the loss of our ability to live without it (see Woody Allen’s oddly applicable and startlingly prescient “Sleeper”).
    I totally agree, however, with the run-to-the-hills, commune with nature attitude. I work in computers and web design, but I dream of the low-tech life, or at least the ability to step out of the digital realm for a nice sit. But will future (or current) generations even be able to sit on the porch with a drink without having (at a minimum) a cell phone on their person? That’s exactly why I got rid of mine – owning one meant people expected me to be connected 24/7. It’s not quite the same as my fridge e-mailing me that the mustard is nearly empty and the milk is spoiling, but it’s an early point along the same line.
    I wonder if in the future we will be able to access the non-digital realm without first plugging ourselves in?

  24. What about the growing amount of garbage that is created by the multiplication of microships (by replacing computers or mobiles, adding ships everywhere)? What about the multiplication of low frequencies, not yet be proven as dangerous, but that scientist ignore the long term effects?

    I don’t see ubiquitous computing as becoming something else than the amplified reflect of our current society: rich people living in their bubble, completly cut from the reality (the sad one). Are we just working to make this bubble sweeter ?

  25. Remy, John Thackara’s “In the Bubble”:”http://www.thackara.com/inthebubble/” talks quite a lot about the socio-economic and ecological implications of these technologies. (Ironically, his use of the term “in the bubble” isn’t the same as the way you use it.) It’s actually a pretty sobering read, but given Adam’s focus on design ethics, it’s very relevant to “Everyware.”

  26. I didn’t like this article much. I kept wondering when the author was going to start speaking english. Then I got a good laugh as he acted like a pretentious brat in the comments here. He hasn’t done much else here either.

    I’m a big fan of ALA and have been for a long time. But this is just silly.

  27. _Mr. Greenfield;_

    Perhaps I have missed the point of your book, and maybe the point of your article. Though, in retrospect I think my thoughts were probably as tangental as your article — meaning, that I haven’t read your book and cannot understand all of your assumptions as you probably don’t understand mine.

    However, I don’t think your point is moot… I think this is indeed an important conversation.

    My only criticism, if it can be called that, is that I’m not entirely sure that “everyware” is an applicable term if we consider the implied entymology. The software and systems which you mention are not “everywhere” by a long shot yet and I doubt they will become invasive and all-encompassing in the long-term.

    Perhaps they will for those of us in the upper-strata of the economy, but until the percentage of persons who own a sophisticated electronic device can get above a critical-mass; it’s in my opinion that a lot of this conversation is purely theoretical.

    (Which of course doesn’t invalidate the argument, but I do think that there might be a more suitable word than ‘everyware.’ Catchy-ness is useful for marketing, but we cannot allow market-speak to delude our language).

  28. In the future everyone on the face of the earth will be able to have hot toast on command, even as they shower. That is unless the ice caps melt and we all drown.

  29. The best technology is to not be reliant on technology. I don’t have a cell phone and I get along without one just fine. And it costs less. Actually it costs me nothing. It seems like every new thing that is introduced may have some benefits but there’s always a downside as well.

  30. Technology is just technology; not bad or good, with it’s implementation dependent upon the programmer and designer. Everyware does sound like a nice concept; the ability to monitor the elderly from afar in case they fall ill, etc. Yet very few ‘new’ innovations in Computer Science (after all that is what we are discussing) actually get to the person in the street in a very useful form. A recent article on the UK site The “Register”:http://www.regdeveloper.co.uk/2006/04/10/henslow_darwin_sqlserver/ in which the discuss the adoption of RDMS in Academia or the lack thereof. Databases has been seen as a ‘solved’ problem in Computer Science research for a long time. Yet your average, even-above average user can not utlise the benefits of such organisation because the implementations(i.e. products) have been woefully promoted and in some cases designed. Technology needs not only to Just Work but also be explained to people for acceptance and uptake to occur. The spread of blackberrys in business is a case in point. Giving people round the clock access to email is great; but why? Why should executives be expected to work more hours and be tied to these e-mail clients? Technology should be used to free up our time and enable us to work less not, chain us wherever we should chose to be. My one hope is that more developers and designers see the consequences of their design decisions.

  31. Judging from this adv^H^H^Harticle, it seems if I apply the DEBUZZWORD lossless compression algorithm on that book, I’d get at least 98% compression of the original.

  32. This is just the latest example of overblown “gee Whiz” effect. We used to call it “rapture of the deep.” He almost gets it right in the passage,

    “. . . We will have to balance whatever improvement we hope to achieve by overlaying our lives with digital mediation against the risk of unduly complicating that which is presently straightforward, breaking that which now works, and introducing new levels of frustration and inconvenience into all the most basic operations of our lives.

    But veers away, with a short sentence about prepatation for the inevitable “breakdown of mediation.”

    The high tech landscape is strewn with solutions chasing problems; marketers pushing products we don’t really need.

    Our lives and business activities depend on many simple, direct transactions that become overly complex and prone to failure with the introduction of computerized “mediation.”

    Let’s be careful about that “breaking that which now works” part. You might want it back again someday.

  33. …as to how you guys wind up assuming that I _approve_ of what’s coming down the pike, in any way.

    It is true that it’s sort of unfair to expect a reader to infer the content of a book from its introduction. But I’ve reread this quite a few times, now, and it’s right there on the page (as it were). So I’m a little puzzled as to the response this piece is running into here (and nowhere else).

    Y’see, I _agree_ with those of you who think that too often, buzzwords replace critical thought about technology – else why would I worry about “the parade of content-free buzz-prefixes used by the marketers of” same?

    I agree with those of you who think what we’re on the verge of trading away is worth far more than the paltry trinkets we’ve been offered in return – short of outright hyperbole, I don’t think there’s a clearer way to say this than to use words like “risk” and “frustration” and “inconvenience.”

    Above all, I agree that representation and mediation in everyday life are much thornier and more complicated than a UML diagram can represent: this is precisely what I mean by “the dissonance…the odd dislocations that crop up whenever we follow old maps into a new territory.”

    I guess I could understand the hostility you’re bringing to the table if none of that was in there…but it is. I’m not the one trying to sell you this stuff, I’m trying to raise awareness about what’s clearly headed our way, so that individuals and communities can mount appropriate responses. In fact, I think my skepticism about the presumptive “benefits” of everyware is about as pronounced as it could be, without disregarding the actual upside potential.

    So Ralph, and Alan, and bill, I have to ask you: is it simply that you didn’t _read_ the piece before sounding off? Because, otherwise, there’s a time-honored expression in English for what it is that you’re doing: we call it shooting the messenger.

  34. Adam, I did read the article and I don’t understand why some comments seem to imply that you are promoting (or even happy about) the future you depict. And I wasn’t shooting the messenger.

    However I admit that my comment was probably inappropriate.

    You do write very well and I’ll bet my tits its a great book.

    Im not a “teenage standards Nazi” either. And I agree that both content and intention are a million times more important than markup. I’m also sure that most here would agree.

    I guess my frustration with the article was due to my not having accepted it as a simple intro to your book. It didn’t have much content. But that’s because it’s an intro! My bad…

    I guess I just come here for the no-nonsense balls-to-the-wall information in plain old friendly English. I just want the facts/advice/tips/whatever. But that doesn’t mean that ALA shouldn’t publish a plug for an exceptional book that has relevance to my field. And there is no reason for me to come in here and criticize ALA for not making an article for ME every odd tuesday.

    Anyway all I want to say is that my comment had little to do with your book.

    Oh and I agree with a previous poster that getting outside for a while (maybe a camping trip in the Rockies for a week) will 100% cure anyone of future phobia. But that’s another book.

  35. After reading both of the Everyware articles (and thinking of picking up the book) I have to say that I agree, though I think you are being too optimistic. The forces pushing for ubiquitous technology are too many and too powerful to limit their influence in any meaningful way. Oh sure, people can debate here and elsewhere, but that debate will be held among the very few (globally speaking) and I don’t think it will have any tangible impact. It’s like debating Attila’s hordes. They’ll be happy to sit down and have a conversation, but at the end of the day it will just roll over you anyway.

    It’s not democratic, it’s not beneficial, but when has that stopped anyone? The future, in short, is profitable. Immensly profitable, and the plans and desires of Brazilian farmer meet the plans and desires of a Wall Street investor, it’s not hard to predict the outcome.

    Which is not to say (I hope) that resistance is futile. Unfortunately, social movements, especially global ones, don’t spring up overnight, even if organization, funding, and initiative were a given. The question is whether limiting ubiquitous technology will even be possible in a few decades, or indeed whether the question will still be meaningful.

  36. I am surprised that no one mentioned the excellent work of Michael Dertouzos in that field, a work that originated in 1999 and that I first get acquainted with via the “Scientific American”.

    “Oxygen project (Brochure about the Oxygen project) “:http://oxygen.lcs.mit.edu/Publications/Oxygen.pdf.

    The Oxygen project is decribed as “New technologies that put humans in the center of computing”

    An absolute must.


Got something to say?

We have turned off comments, but you can see what folks had to say before we did so.

More from ALA